{Rant} On Peanuts, Babies, and Big Fancy Allergy Studies

 

The fine print on that story about peanut allergy

We interrupt your Tuesday morning to address media reports regarding a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine and its findings that:

“The early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy and modulated immune responses to peanuts.”

What’s missing in many of these stories is the fact that exposure therapy has been around for awhile. Here they’re talking about prevention (big difference), but most parents of peanut-allergic kids are aware of ongoing trials that involve exposure to small amounts of peanuts over time.

We’re sort of “d’uh.” [ETA: This is a big development–the idea of peanuts as prevention–but it’s not entirely surprising. Docs have been going back and forth on the issue of early introduction of peanuts to kids for years. And for low risk kids, it makes perfect sense. For high risk kids? Not so much as I explain later.]

And I’m also chuckling at the big ol’ web ads featuring “Mr. Peanut” up on the CNN website with this story.

Way to insert yourself into a hot topic, Mr. Peanut!

I mean…

Peanut ads on CNN website on story re peanut allergy

 

Peanut promoting aside*, there’s something missing in the broad strokes journalists are painting with this story. It’s summed up in this paragraph buried over on the CNN page:

“Parents of infants and young children with eczema or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, pediatrician, or their general practitioner prior to feeding them peanut products.” {Read full story}

Translation: don’t assume that giving a kid a peanut will do the trick at preventing a problem–especially after they had a reaction or if there’s a family history of allergies.

The new plan of action may work for many (YAY!) but not all (BOO!) and you could accidentally create a problem if you go all Dr. House and DIY with the exposure.

Also, small kids can choke on peanuts. Just sayin’.

Families with a history of food allergies, gastrointestinal issues (including celiac disease), skin problems like eczema (and my personal pain-in-the-butt, dermatitis herpetiformis), and autoimmune diseases should always talk with a qualified medical professional before giving a kid a peanut product.

That’s not Sanjay Gupta, either. I mean your personal doctor. The one that will help you expose your kid to peanuts in a medical setting and then respond quickly if there’s a reaction in your child that needs to be addressed on the spot. [If you’ve got these family history “flags,” then your kiddo is at higher risk and extra caution is needed.}

From some stuff I’ve seen online this morning, I can tell that Internet “experts” are piling on one another in comment sections declaring this one study as proof of the hygiene hypothesis.

Well, guess what? My kitchen is routinely a mess. You can eat off my floor not because it’s clean but because there’s food on it most of the time. Plus, I consumed peanuts while pregnant and nursing. I ate peanut M&Ms while in labor and delivery, for pete’s sake. Peanut dust was all over my dining room table and kitchen until the kid had a negative reaction during his second year of life.

This study, while hopeful, isn’t the end of the story.

Let’s keep our heads on straight, people.

***

UPDATE: Since publishing this post quickly this morning then and watching the traffic rise, I’ve been conducted extra online research. I’m not the only person urging caution in the wake of mainstream media interest as this tweet from Dr. Dave Stukus, a pediatric allergist who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study, demonstrates.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.20.03 PMHe’s also cited here, in an excerpt from the editorial that accompanied the study, as having written:

“…formal evaluation and consultation by a board-certified allergist will be paramount in making sure this is the proper and safe choice to make before giving peanut to high-risk infants….Roughly 2% of children with negative skin tests and 11% of children with mild skin tests developed peanut allergy. More research is needed to better determine why some children still developed peanut allergy and also whether this can be applied to other foods as well.”

This doctor sounds like a wise man. Now if journalists will clue into the nuances.

UPDATE 9 March 2015:

Robyn O’Brien has revealed that the study was funded by The National Peanut Board–a fact overlooked by the New England Journal of Medicine. The appearance of Planter’s Mr. Peanut isn’t funny any more as much as aggravating. No disclosure about the study’s funding origins and two ads (one still and a video) on the CNN website. Tsk, tsk.

The fine print on the study’s funding  is found here, on the National Institute of Health’s website in an article dated March 9, 2015.

For convenience, here’s a screen shot.National Peanut Board funds LEAP studyThe page also reports that “The study was funded primarily by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).” Granted, one would hope that the peanut industry would be engaged with research but in both science and journalism, disclosure of a funding relationship between an industry and a study like this matters.

Update March 9 (part 2)

Curiously, the blog post about the study on the National Peanut Board’s own website, PeanutAllergyFacts.org, doesn’t mention the organization’s funding of the study. Nor does it clearly describe the exceptions to the testing recommended in the editorial.

To be fair, the American Peanut Council doesn’t do a responsible job with their post, either, saying of the study: “The evidence is now strong that early exposure is an effective way to encourage tolerance to peanut protein.”

* Because this is one of my most popular posts, a peanut ad sometimes shows up in the box below. Let me know if you see it and I’ll approach Federated Media and have it pulled.

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Deep, Slow Breathing and Mindfulness May Help Make Kids Bullyproof

Mindfulness can help prevent and ease the pain of bullying  Pamela Price for RedWhiteandGrew.com

It seems too simple to be true, doesn’t it? That deep breathing practices and other kinds of similar, stress-reducing activities can be useful bully-proofing tools?

Yet we now know that deep, slow breathing helps kids relax and regroup after negative interpersonal exchanges, be it incidents of ordinary meanness or full-fledged bullying. Intentionally practicing deep breathing together along with other types of mindfulness training (meditation or, for religious folks, “contemplative prayer”), holds great potential for helping bullies and their victims alike, too. Just look at the work of Inner Explorer.

Basically, these practices help us humans shift our sensitive brains and nervous systems away from the dreaded “fight or flight” mode toward the more serene “rest and digest” mode. This can be helpful for kids and teens not only in the context of a negative social encounter but also in the aftermath, when anxiety and traumatic memories can threaten to overwhelm them as they try to process mentally, physically, and emotionally what has happened. With rare exceptions children who are prone to being overly aggressive or manipulative–yes, the bullies themselves–can learn to calm and regroup themselves as well. They can also learn to recognize triggers for negative behaviors and respond to those impulses using self-calming strategies. (Conflict management skills help, too, obviously.)

One simple breathing technique that parents and educators can teach kids is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, demonstrated here:

Video source: GoZen.com (via YouTube.com)

 

Explore More:

{Amazon Affiliate Links* are in this section.}

• My research into bullying and gifted kids has led me to recognize the power of mindfulness training, which I’ll touch upon in my second book.

• Over in my Amazon Store, I’ve got two virtual “shelves” of interest to parents and educators: Mindfulness and Childhood Bullying and Conflict Management. You’re invited to take a look. (Note that I am especially fond of Trauma-Proofing Your Kids by Levine Kline.) Many of these books may be available in your community or local library.

• For more examples of kid-friendly mindfulness practices, see my Pinterest board.
• On a slight tangent, there’s an interesting article here about the connection between childhood aggression, sleepiness, and sleep apnea.

* FTC Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate member, I receive modest compensation for books purchased via these links.

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